Chris Isaak Breathes New Life Into Vintage Sounds at House of Blues

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Chris Isaak
House of Blues
June 29, 2016

Hot June nights beg for a summery soundtrack – the kind that makes you feel warm, delighted and just a hair nostalgic. Seemingly born to create music that suits this desire, Chris Isaak was the perfect amount of breeze to refresh humid Houston’s Wednesday night. Playing a 25-song set and a three-song encore, Isaak certainly seemed to enjoy his role as resident cool crooner for the night.

Sauntering onto the stage in a suit that was equal parts Orbison, Lewis and Presley, the bedazzled Isaak looked as handsome as ever as he rolled directly into the evening’s first song, “Dancin,” which had the singer holding an impeccable high note longer than was humanly conceivable. It was immediately obvious to the audience that his good looks were not the only trait that has held the test of time. The effortlessly adorable “Somebody’s Crying” (1995) came next, showcasing the stunning falsetto that so many identify with the stylized troubadour, as did the next song, “Two Hearts.”

When Isaak finally addressed the crowd, he did so with equal panache, taking time to indulge them with many thanks for supporting him and live music in general. He sheepishly proclaimed that the audience would be bored to tears at an Isaak solo show and began to showcase his exceptionally talented band, Silvertone, a thankful trend of the evening. Chris and the band have been playing together for 31 years, a fact that is no doubt the reason they triumph not only in complementing one another so successfully but also in showcasing each member’s superb individual talents.

It seemed that much of the crowd had taken in one of his live shows before, and the air told a clear story that many people had been waiting a long time to see him perform again. As one female audience member interrupted his speaking to scream, “I love you, Chris!” he coolly retorted, “You keep talking, I will come over there and find you. I love you, too.” The suggestion was completely genuine, which Isaak proved by physically climbing down the stage side and walking through the crowd while singing “Don’t Leave Me On My Own,” walking around the floor, into the elevator, onto the balcony and completing the song from atop the audience. “Kiss Me Like a Stranger” was performed from up above before Isaak returned to join Silvertone in a vintage rendition of “Oh, Pretty Woman."

In addition to the Orbison classic, Isaak and Silvertone performed several more covers throughout the evening: “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Great Balls of Fire” and a lovely rendition of “Blue Moon” in dedication to Isaak's idol Scotty Moore. While these songs were completely traditional in their execution and no real liberties were taken to modernize or alter their original tone, they seemed altogether new, strikingly so. Isaak’s inspirations are crystal-clear, but his presentation is completely natural and authentic. These songs could have easily been his and his alone, had the audience not known better.

A few songs later, the inimitable surf-guitar opening to “Wicked Game” sent the audience into a sensual frenzy, everyone closing their eyes and imagining they were covered with sand, rolling on a beach. “Go Walking  Down There” and “Running Down the Road” were particular showcases for the band, bongos and guitars and keys all bursting into their own great balls of fire. “Forever Blue” was a glorious throwback ballad, opening a string of softer songs for lovers to hold one another a bit tighter.

Something about Isaak harkens the heart to the days of the supper club, when people would put on their best, sit and enjoy the evening while swaying to the music, standing to dance whenever the time was right. Wednesday’s show suggested that there is still ample room in the world of live music for this time-honored tradition. This is the beauty of Chris Isaak: He allows his audience to simultaneously straddle the joys of the past while managing to live authentically in the present. It’s all class and no kitsch, which, quite honestly, is nearly impossible to pull off.

After a multitude of throwbacks and newer songs from as recent as last year’s First Comes the Night, Isaak closed the regular set with 1995’s highly underrated “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing” into “Bye Bye Baby.” After a quick costume change, Isaak and Silvertone returned for a three-song encore, including another tribute to idol Scotty Moore with the Elvis classic “I Forget to Remember to Forget.” It seemed as though Chris wanted to play all night, and would have done so if given the choice.

Chris Isaak has an unparalleled ability to uphold traditional American rock and roll styling while creating songs that are effortlessly modern and never kitschy.  Can music be simultaneously vintage and new without being a “throwback”?  Thankfully, the answer is yes.

Personal Bias: “Somebody’s Crying” is like a happy sigh. It makes you want to sit on the back of a Jeep and head to the beach to find a new summer crush.

The Crowd: Mostly 40-plus, a good amount of foreign fans, and a heavy amount of dudes repping Chandler Bing’s early-'90s wardrobe.

Overheard/Overseen In the Crowd: 1) Two cute ladies standing behind me. Lady number 1: “I can’t believe how sexy he is.” Lady number 2: “I’d marry him.” 2) Fast-forward an hour during the closing number, and who is randomly dancing onstage? I bet you can figure it out. Get it, cute ladies.

Random Notebook Dump: Can someone please explain why anybody would want to go to a live show just to talk (and talk LOUDLY, over the music) for the entirety of the performance? Overall, this thankfully was a great audience, but for far too long I was stuck in a shit sandwich of three dumpy, screaming bitches in front of me and two wasted, nasty men behind me. Go home and scream over your radio; the people here paid to hear the band!

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